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Lianne Castelino and Andrea Howick

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How Do You Deal With Nightmare Sports Parents?

Posted: 05/24/2013 5:00 pm

As we look high and low for consistent signs of spring, our three offspring are well-entrenched in summer sports activities -- namely, baseball, softball, soccer and ball hockey. They love it and we love them loving it. It's all good. Mercifully, our boys are on the same soccer and baseball teams and are able to transport themselves when required, so the schedule is very manageable.

What is increasingly unmanageable though, after all these years of participating in, watching my kids play and hearing about my friends' kids experiences, is parental behaviour. Questionable, largely unethical, disrespectful words, thoughts and actions are carried out by (thankfully) a minority of individuals, who are increasingly growing in number, ever so slowly.

You may have met some of them. They stack teams, yell comments, usually don't lift a finger to volunteer as a coach or assistant coach, vociferously question calls and coaching decisions, bend the rules left, right and centre, slyly encourage cheating and winning at all cost, or they run everything and control teams, games, outcomes, standings and the like from their lofty perch. Tons o' fun.

Our family has watched this behaviour at various venues and against a litany of backdrops/arenas/fields for years. We usually don't say anything and watch these people derail themselves. But to this day, it still amazes me.

When adults display an overt need to WIN vicariously through their children no matter what the circumstances, something must be said. They are fashioning children who will likely do the same. Great -- a whole new generation of cheaters awaits.

Note to them: Get over yourselves, it is only a game. Remember your age, and finally, if you can't do any of these, STAY HOME.

The problem with saying nothing, as I have said to my kids on occasion, is that inaction inevitably supports this cheating behaviour. By the same token, saying something, anything, pits a RATIONAL mind against an IRRATIONAL one. Who do you think will "win" that debate?

In our family, we joke about it. Not ideal, but you've gotta laugh to keep your sanity.

Fortunately, for whatever reason, my kids have always landed on teams with fair and sane coaches. We tell them to accept whatever team they are on and whomever their teammates are, even though most other teams feature stacked lineups built for minor sports supremacy. We tend to repeat to them the refrain,"you get what you get and you don't get upset." None of these factors ever seems to bother them. Even the few times they have the option to choose friends/teammates to play with, they elect to choose one with the belief that selecting more than one is not fair to everyone else. I don't know where this all comes from, but we support it wholeheartedly.

Apart from the infantile behaviour of these "overzealously competitive parents," the people I feel bad for most are their children. They will likely grow up to expect their mom or dad to gallop in on a white horse and rescue them when they don't win in life. Too bad it doesn't work that way. Can you spell depression, anxiety, failure complex?

I also feel bad for those coaches who choose to play by the rules, who don't realize or figure out too late that this type of behaviour is out there. They innocently put together teams, lineups, dedicate their time and effort to volunteering as coaches, etc., only to see their teams lose repeatedly or have their genuine efforts undermined by this "unfair" element.

As I brace to watch these various dramas unfold (some have started from day one), I wonder, who are the real children here? Even the smallest of children understand the basic principles of right and wrong don't they?

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  • Do Your Homework

    <a href="http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Coaching-Kids-For-Dummies.productCd-0764551973.html" target="_hplink">Read Coaching Kids for Dummies</a>. There’s no shame in admitting you’re a ‘Dummy.’ Starting with the very basics will give you a good sense of everything you’ll be dealing with, from fostering skills and promoting good sportsmanship to preventing burnout and dealing with irate parents.

  • Know The Rules

    Check out <a href="http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/coach-your-own-child.htm" target="_hplink">TLC’s comprehensive online guide</a> to coaching your own child. It offers valuable advice about details that could be easy to overlook if you get caught up in the big picture – like making sure you’re familiar with the proper rules of play and determining if your kid even wants you to coach her team in the first place.

  • Understand The Importance Of Role Playing

    Be sure to separate your ‘parent’ and ‘coach’ roles. Psychology professor Shari Kuchenbecker recommends using a ‘Two Hat’ trick in her article <a href="http://www.momsteam.com/team-parents/coaching/coaching-your-own-child/attitude-objectivity-preparation-keys" target="_hplink">Coaching Your Own Child: Attitude, Objectivity and Preparation are Keys</a>. The trick can be as simple as stating that you’re taking off your ‘Coach’ hat and are now speaking with your ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ hat on after the game. With your parent hat on, you can even refer to your ‘coach’ self in the third person to replay the game from a supportive parent’s perspective.

  • The Team Comes First

    Remember your end goal is to do what’s best for the team – not ensure that your kid is the next Sidney Crosby or Mia Hamm. <a href="http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/coach-your-own-child1.htm" target="_hplink">TLC</a> warns that if you’re grooming your child to be a star athlete, you really shouldn’t be coaching her. After all, if your eye is on that kind of prize, how could you possibly be objective when you’re assigning positions and setting starting lineups?

  • No Favouritism

    Avoid treating your child differently from teammates – either by showing favouritism, or by being overly harsh to demonstrate that you’re not giving her preferential treatment. The article<a href="http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/balancing-parenting-and-coaching.html" target="_hplink"> Balancing Parenting and Coaching – for Dummies</a> points out that showing favouritism can cause teammates to resent your child, and ultimately make her a pariah on the team. Being extra hard on her, on the other hand, can cause her to resent you and potentially set back her progress if you’re treating her unfairly. <a href="http://www.momsteam.com/team-parents/coaching/coaching-your-own-child/attitude-objectivity-preparation-keys" target="_hplink">Kuchenbecker</a> recommends giving equal advice to everyone based on “observable actions” to avoid paying too much attention to your own child.


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